By Sumaira Shaikh, July 15, 2006, Special to the Friday Magazine
TORONTO -- Alhamdullah. On Monday July 3, 2006 nearly 70 Canadian Muslims
from Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, London, Ottawa, Montreal and Waterloo
gathered at the Islamic Centre of York Region to generate a common strategy
for the Muslim community in Canada.
The six-hour meeting, which took a 90-minute break for lunch and Zuhr
prayer, was jointly organized by the Canadian Islamic Congress, Toronto
Muslim Unity Group, and the Muslim Council of Montreal. Their aim was to
create a forum through which the Muslim community's challenges could be
identified, as well as to generate both short- and long-term solutions to
Participants represented a broad cross-section of the Canadian Muslim
community; Sunni and Shi’a, youth and seniors, men and women. Some came as
members of the host or other organizations, while others attended out of
Five speakers launched the event with prepared papers presenting their
points of view about challenges facing the Muslim community and proposed
solutions or plans to tackle them.
Those who attended were later divided into 10 discussion groups, each of
which focused on the same two areas of concern -- the challenges facing
Canadian Muslims today, and their ideas on short- and long-term action
plans for the Muslim community. Each group then chose a spokesperson to
present a summary of its discussion to a later plenary session.
After the lunch and prayer break, participants were presented with three
summarized lists of material discussed by all of the groups and were asked
to chose items that met with their majority approval. One list offered
responses to the question, What Do You Think Are The Challenges Facing
Canadian Muslims Today?; the second list outlined suggested short-term
action plans; and the third focused on suggested long-term action plans.
Here are the three lists (items not in order of priority) that were
I - Challenges Facing Canadian Muslims
- Negative stereotyping of Muslims by the media.
- The need for more integration; including removal of discrimination
barriers against Muslims and by encouraging more Muslim participation in
Canada's political process.
- The effects of Canada's move toward the political right.
- Internal divisions in the national Muslim community along lines of
gender, generation, culture, wealth, ethnicity, language, religious
- Improving the quality and quantity of Canadian Muslims who can
successfully manage their economic, social and political environment.
- A Canadian foreign policy that appears to be increasingly against the
- The lack of consensus and community building mechanisms among Canadian
- The need for more Muslims in significant professions, such as law,
II - Short-Term Action Plan
- Rejecting media-imposed calls for Muslim "extremist/moderate" discourse.
- Having more Muslim community media.
- Sending more letters to editors and/or using Press Councils, etc etc as
means to address frequent anti-Islam bias in the media.
- Inviting more guests of other faiths to attend Friday prayers to make
them more aware of Islam and Muslims.
- Making a greater effort to defend and advocate for Muslim rights and
- Encouraging greater participation in elections at all levels (federal,
provincial, and municipal) and on government and professional boards.
- Establishing a legal defense fund.
- Training more Muslim representatives/spokespersons in how to use
Canadian media effectively.
- Enhancing Da’wa (education) efforts among Muslims and non-Muslims
III - Long-Term Action Plan
- Creating research-oriented "think tanks."
- Making a greater effort to prevent the physical and mental ghettoization
of Canadian Muslims.
- Encouraging greater involvement of Muslim youth and women in the life of
- Fostering greater participation in and engagement with non-Muslim
- Encouraging more Canadian Muslims to take proactive ownership in Canada
and its institutions.
- Rejecting the perception that participation in Canadian political life
- Holding the government politically accountable for its actions at the
ballot box during elections.
- Achieving greater cooperation and collaboration among Islamic
- Creating mentor programs, especially for Muslim youth and women.
- Creating a Muslim School Board.
- Striving for more Muslim unity on common causes.
- Encouraging Muslim youth to choose non-traditional professional fields
such as law, business, media, political science, etc.
- Creating community service centres that serve the wider Canadian
society, not exclusively Muslims.
- Creating a national Zakah and donation agency from which resources can
be made available for community projects.
The organizers of the meeting took it upon themselves to try to execute
these action plans and urged other Canadian Muslim organizations to do the
same. They also assured participants that they are willing to cooperate
with Muslim organizations wishing to adopt any plans outlined during the
[Sumaira Shaikh is a freelance writer. She lives in Toronto.]